You might think that the majority of U.S. soccer fans are only in big markets such as Chicago and Los Angeles. But the soccer fan base is expanding nationwide thanks to the efforts of a few local fans.
The American Outlaws, an organization of U.S. soccer fans, was started in Lincoln by Justin Brunken and Korey Donahoo in 2007. Both Brunken and Donahoo grew up playing and following soccer, and one day, decided to make it their goal to unite the scattered sectors of soccer enthusiasts.
"We went to a U.S. game back in 2007 and we didn't see anything else going on as far as support for the team, so we decided we'd just do it," Brunken said. "So, later that year we got a bunch of people and drove them to Chicago on a bus for a game and when other people saw what we were doing they were amazed."
Interest began to flood in and a full-fledged movement was born.
In just two years, American Outlaws have branched into 18 states, including California and New York, and Washington, D.C. The movement has even gone international, with one group in Japan that supports American soccer.
"We have chapters everywhere, from L.A. to Dallas to Kansas City," Brunken said. "It's a total grass-roots effort. We never did any advertising or anything like that. We just decided to do it and people started following."
One such follower is Nebraskan Chase Tonkinson, an Outlaw member since 2007 who admits he never really followed the sport, but has gained a strong appreciation for soccer and the excitement it offers.
"I never played soccer or anything, but as a senior in high school, I started following my high school's team and then started watching U.S. soccer and it just grew from there," Tonkinson said.
"The Outlaws really gives an opportunity for fans to start their own chapters and have a place to go and watch these games and it's been exciting," Tonkinson said.
To fund various chapters, the American Outlaws allow chapters to sell the group's merchandise.
Major companies such as Nike and Red Bull have offered special gear to American Outlaws members, and despite no official affiliation, U.S. Soccer also pitches in when needed.
"We're not an official part of U.S. Soccer, but they're really good about setting aside our own section for us at games and we even get a banner," Brunken said. "We've also talked to MLS (Major League Soccer) about what we do and it's great to see that so many organizations appreciate what we're doing."
Many people only watch soccer for the World Cup, the Olympics, or the just-concluded FIFA Confederations Cup. But Brunken said his group hopes to expand that interest.
"It's going to take big games for fans to get interested and that will help us grow a lot. And, also, just the grass-roots effort will help grow the sport a lot, too," Brunken said.
Anyone interested in joining can visit the group's Web site at www.theamericanoutlaws.com.